Interview: We The Kings
It’s easy to forget where you came from when you’re sitting on a high horse. So while it may be hard to reconcile the mammoth following of Floridian pop-punk giants We The Kings, you know deep down inside that that Blink 182 album hidden in a cupboard at your parents’ house once meant a hell of a lot to you – and yeah, that Offspring record meant something too, didn’t it? We The Kings are fast becoming this generation’s equivalent, and there’s no denying that their influence is reaching deep into the formative years of far more people than you could possibly imagine.
Speaking to Travis Clark is an interesting experience. As frontman of such a well-loved yet critically ignored act, he’s comfortable, passionate and self-aware – but most of all, he’s unfazed by the critics. “A lot of it has come from people who didn’t like the band anyway, so it’s hard to take [the criticism] even remotely seriously,” he muses. “If you don’t like the band and you’re writing a review about the band, it’s not going to come out positive. I try not to focus on that… The only thing that matters to me are the fans that come to the shows. They come up to me after and tell me it was the best time of their life, or it made their week, or month, or year – that’s all that matters to me,” he says. “I’m not ever going to write a song to make somebody write a good review about me. I could write a song that doesn’t make sense or uses different chord progressions than I’m used to for street credit if I wanted, but that’s selling out to me, and it’ll sound contrived and it won’t sound passionate. I’m going to continue to write songs that I like and that our fans like.”
It’s not only the sheer volume of the We The Kings fanbase that’s impressive, but their ferocious loyalty to and passion for the music and the band. When asked whether the pressure from obsessive fandom could start to prove inhibitive, Clark admits only to a sense of duty. “I think the biggest statement behind that is the fact that I haven’t released the other songs [we write] that don’t sound anything like us – that’s the loyalty to the fans right there. I’m not going to release something that doesn’t sound like We The Kings; they wouldn’t be a fan of it, listening to it under [our name]. I choose songs that sound like [our past singles]. Those songs that were popular on our last two records were the songs I chose to keep on this record. It keeps a consistency with our band, and the pop-rock we’ve grown accustomed to – and we also get to grow with the band and our fans as they grow up.”
In his acceptance of the youth of his fanbase, Clark acknowledges a degree of responsibility for the influence his band has on them. Interestingly, the teen angst amplified by acts of the past like Pearl Jam and Rage Against The Machine is nullified by We The Kings, who’ve been marketed not as outcasts, rebels or bad boys, but as fun-loving role models. “There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with this job – not that I’d call it a job, ‘cos it’s my fantasy, it’s my dream – but a lot of people will do anything I say. If I say ‘do something crazy,’ someone might hurt themselves, but if I say ‘do the right thing, be a good person’, a lot of people do the right thing and be good people. I have the ability to do my part and change the world through music, and it’s a really cool feeling to have that.”
In having such an easily influenced and devoted audience, We The Kings’ focus has become less about progression, and more about staying loyal – and, in a roundabout way, getting into people’s heads. “I’m a sucker for catchy hooks, and what’s called ‘pop’ music. I like when a song gets stuck in my head,” Clark admits. “I like to write a song that somebody can’t stop singing. It’s memorable, it’s catchy, so underneath that I just want to put out upbeat music that makes you want to get up – like going to the beach in summer.”
And while their third album, Sunshine State Of Mind, may sound like more of the same on first listen, to Clark it represents a maturation of the band’s sound. “When we were writing in the early stages, they were just loud fast songs that didn’t make too much sense, but now they’re starting to develop and grow some structure. But we try to keep that original We The Kings sound,” he says. “Fans that fell in love with our first and then our second record are now being able to experience a whole new side of the band with this third record. [There are] a lot of guitars in it, the melodies are more simple, and the lyrical content is different from the other two records too.” As a pop-punk powerhouse, We The Kings’ legacy was never supposed to be a body of art, but a body of influence; and there’s no denying the impact they’re having.
What: Sunshine State Of Mind is out now through Liberator
With: You Me At Six
Where: UNSW Roundhouse, lic A/A
When: Sunday August 28